FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2017-26 (Election)1
Date of Issue: December 30, 2017

ISSUE

May a judicial candidate personally receive an unsolicited contribution to his or her campaign? 

ANSWER: No.

 

FACTS

A judicial candidate asks whether it is permissible to directly receive an unsolicited contribution to his or her campaign or does the judicial candidate have to let the committee of responsible persons receive all such donations.  

  
DISCUSSION

Canon 7C(1) prohibits a judicial candidate from personally soliciting campaign contributions, but provides that a committee of responsible persons may be established “to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate's campaign . . .”

As explained in Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 12-01:

No provision of Canon 7 expressly relates to the acceptance of contributions. Section 105.071(7), Florida Statutes, provides the only express prohibition against acceptance of contributions, and provides that a judicial candidate may not accept contributions from a political party. 

Canon 7 does not prohibit the committee of responsible persons from accepting contributions from any person but Canon 7C(1) provides that the  committee of responsible persons formed to secure funds for the judge's campaign are “not prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions and public support from any person or corporation authorized by law.”

It can be argued that the distinction between acceptance and solicitation of a contribution which appears in the provisions quoted above results in it being permissible for a judicial candidate to accept (but not solicit) a contribution from anyone other than a political party.

The Committee believes, however, that the practical distinction between solicitation and acceptance of a contribution blurs in the context of a campaign. Although the text of Canon 7(C)(1) speaks only to securing and soliciting contributions, and not acceptance of contributions, the purpose of the committee is to insulate the candidate from fundraising, in all of its aspects, including the acceptance of contributions.

Accordingly, it is the opinion of the Committee that the judicial candidate is prohibited from accepting contributions, a function which is reserved exclusively to the committee of responsible persons.

(emphasis added.)  In the context of this opinion, there is no distinction between “accepting” a contribution and personally “receiving” a contribution.

The candidate’s inquiry concerning the “receipt” of contributions potentially encompasses a wide variety of potential scenarios, many of which cannot be anticipated or addressed in this opinion without specific facts. However, in Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 12-17, the Committee advised that ‘[a] judge who is his or her own campaign treasurer may collect contributions from a post office box, record them, and deposit them in the campaign account, which are just ministerial rather than fund-raising acts.”

Canon 7A(3)(b) provides that “[a] candidate for judicial office … shall encourage members of the candidate’s family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate as apply to the candidate.” In instances where the candidate or a member of the candidate’s family is not the campaign treasurer, there is no prohibition on the treasurer personally receiving contributions to the candidate’s campaign.

Similarly, Canon 7A(3)(c) provides that “[a] candidate for judicial office …shall prohibit employees and officials who serve at the pleasure of the candidate, and shall discourage other employees and officials subject to the candidate’s direction and control from doing on the candidate’s behalf what the candidate is prohibited from doing under the Sections of this Canon.” Thus, in the event an individual wants to leave a contribution at your office, they should be informed that the contribution cannot be accepted by the candidate or by his or her employees and the individual should be provided contact information of one of the members of the committee and ask that the contribution be sent to them. If left at the candidate’s office, it should be delivered to the committee for the committee to send the contributor a note thanking them for the donation and asking that any future contributions be sent to the committee.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 7A; 7C(1); 7A(3)(b); 7A(3)(c).
Fla. JEAC Op. 12-01; 12-17.

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The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is expressly charged with rendering advisory opinions interpreting the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to specific circumstances confronting or affecting a judge or judicial candidate.

Its opinions are advisory to the inquiring party, to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and to the judiciary at large. Conduct that is consistent with an advisory opinion issued by the Committee may be evidence of good faith on the part of the judge, but the Judicial Qualifications Commission is not bound by the interpretive opinions of the Committee. See Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834 (Fla. 1997). However, in reviewing the recommendations of the Judicial Qualifications Commission for discipline, the Florida Supreme Court will consider conduct in accordance with a Committee opinion as evidence of good faith.  See id.

The Committee expresses no view on whether any proposed conduct of an inquiring judge is consistent with substantive law which governs any proceeding over which the inquiring judge may preside.  The Committee only has authority to interpret the Code of Judicial Conduct, and therefore its opinions deal only with whether the proposed conduct violates a provision of that Code.

For further information, contact Judge Miguel de la O, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Eleventh Circuit, Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 N.W. 12th Street, Room 424, Miami, FL 33125.

Participating Members:
Judge Michael F. Andrews, Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge W. Joel Boles, Judge Miguel de la O, Judge James A. Edwards, Mark Herron, Esquire, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Spencer D. Levine, Judge K. Douglas Henderson, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, and Judge Michael Raiden.


All Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinions, subject matter indices, and a search engine are available on the Sixth Circuit’s website at www.jud6.org under Opinions. Committee opinions and related finding tools are also accessible on the Florida Supreme Court’s website at www.floridasupremecourt.org as a secondary posting under Court Opinions.


Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
Justice Charles T. Canady, Justice Liaison
John A Tomasino, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the Judicial Qualifications Committee
Office of the State Courts Administrator

 

 

1. The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the “(Election)” notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the whole Committee.